What do you expect in a Cathedral?

“Not the atmosphere one would expect in a Cathedral”

What do you expect to find in a cathedral? A fine building with impressive architecture, huge expansive windows resplendent with artistic imagery, ornate decorations, organ music and…. quiet?


In Derby Cathedral today we saw such a wonderful building. But hold on…there was a drum kit and electrical guitars tuning up….and a light effects kit which displayed multi-coloured lights onto the vaulted ceiling withe ever so complex swirling patterns. The red and green lights highlighted the pillars, gave the Cathedral a very different look and feel – atmosphere. (Pity Instagram doesn’t keep them for longer than 24 hours – my fault)

As we departed we overheard a lady remark; “Not the atmosphere one would expect in a Cathedral”. What are we expecting in a Church this Christmas?

It started to get me thinking when we venture into a Cathedral what are expecting or wanting to experience? If it is a museum we may be happy to see the fine arches, often so highly and richly decorated, the rich dark grain of the choir stalls situated adjacent to the altar and the large brass cross at the far end of the Church. We may see the large number of memorial stones either on the wall or on the floor of the Cathedral commemorating the lives of others: but this is no history museum. Yes, I believe that the Church has its traditions on which to locate its past, but it is a Church of the present and the future.

Our hymns are predominantly set in the past. As a Methodist we are so blessed to have had Charles Wesley who produced so many hymns full of deep theology. These have been played throughout time in corporate worship……worship….times where we can reflect upon God’s worth to us. Isn’t this what we are looking for in Church?

At this time of year we will see and possible experience ‘Carols by Candlelight’. It is a service of what some might call a magical time of 9 carols and Scripture readings which encapsulate Christmas for so many. As we sing these hymns and hear the familiar readings what do we understand of them?  Do they convey our heartfelt message of love for God, of thanks for what he has done for us? Are they accessible or understandable to those who attend?

As I heard the music technicians set up for a concert this evening in the Cathedral, I wondered how unsettling this may be for some, like the lady I overheard earlier. Do we need to be unsettled, to jar us from being in a comfortable setting, one we recognise so easily and let us ponder anew what Christmas means now, today?

Would Jesus, if he arrived as a babe this Christmas, welcome the pageantry, the architecture, the traditional liturgies when, as a radical, he may have desired us to consider what it means to follow him. I feel that he didn’t expect it to be a comfortable path.

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